By Tim Hayes
Just before Christmas we went to a high school holiday concert, and watching the jazz ensemble play brought back wonderful memories of my days behind a drum set, pounding out the beat with my high school friends on stage.
Most people don’t know this, but I was quite the drummer as a kid and a teenager. It started when my folks wanted me to take piano lessons, actually. They drove me to a swanky part of town where this elderly gentleman taught young snots like me to play the piano.
Hated it immediately. HATE. ED. IT. Not the old dude so much, although he and his house did smell a little funky. A combination of cats, cigarettes, and Old Spice, if memory serves. Let it suffice to say that piano simply would never be my cup of tea, and leave it at that.
Then my Dad suggested the drums. And the clouds parted, angels sang, a blinding light of happiness enveloped every cell in my seven-year-old corpus. I had come home to my calling. My true medium. My muse. Okay, I think you get the idea. Loved the drums. LOVE. ED. THEM.
Not sure how we found this tiny storefront studio, but every Saturday morning either my Mom or Dad would drive me across town to take drum lessons from a cool, septuagenarian hipster who had gone by the name of “Babe” since the days when he played the drums touring with Bob Hope’s band. Babe never lost his skills with the sticks. He could play rings around the younger guys who worked for him in the shop. Babe the Boss Man truly was boss, man. The best Saturday mornings were the ones when you had Babe teach your lesson.
I studied at Babe’s studio from second through eighth grade. My rubber-and-wood practice pad and thicker practice sticks (thicker so that when you mastered the sticking on a particular rhythmic pattern, it became even easier to play with standard thinner sticks), along with about eight years of lesson books remain in a box in my storage shed even today. I flipped through a couple of them not long ago, and seeing “4-12-68” or “10-3-73” scribbled across the top of pages – marking the date of the next Saturday’s lesson, by which time I needed to be able to play that set of pages – damn near blew my mind.
Those dates obviously passed a long, long, long time ago. But I can remember standing at the practice pad or sitting at the practice drum set in Babe’s crowded little studio, with either him or one of the other instructors watching and listening, and feeling like I always wanted to be there.
The skills learned in that studio led to some of my fondest pre-college memories. Playing with a community orchestra as the youngest member. Playing with a Revolutionary War re-enactment troupe during the American Bicentennial in 1976. Playing in the marching band, jazz band, and concert band in high school. Even playing with a group, earning money on weekends at wedding receptions playing Top-40 songs, polkas, and corny stuff like the “Alley Cat” dance. Beat the hell out of working at McDonald’s, I’ll tell you.
(Forewarned is forearmed, Dear Reader…I smell ripe fodder for some future blogs in the previous paragraph.)
Not long ago, I drove through the neighborhood where Babe’s studio had stood. It’s in a part of town that has declined spectacularly since those happier days. But just cruising slowly by the old storefront – which must have changed hands plenty of times over the years – still made me smile. And made me want to pick up those sticks again, more than ever.
Thanks, Babe. I know they’re digging you laying down that solid beat today, somewhere above the clouds.
Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting